Subaru Forester VS Ford Escape
- Interesting looks
- Excellent safety
- Good space and practicality
- Not interesting to drive
- Doesn't live up to 'Sport' name
- Bit pricey to own
- Sporty styling
- Plenty of standard features across range
- Grunty 2.0-litre petrol engine
- Overly direct steering
- Unsettled body control
This is not the Subaru Forester Sport model they get in Japan, and it's therefore not the one most Aussies have been desperate to see launched here.
Nope, the giveaway is the 2.5i part of the name for this 2021 Subaru Forester 2.5i Sport model, which has just been added to the brand's range to add a bit more of an eye-catching variant to the line-up.
In Japan, the Sport gets a new turbocharged petrol engine, but this one instead soldiers on with the same powerplant as the rest of the Forester range, but there have been plenty of changes and additions besides.
|Engine Type||2.5L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
Ford is hoping its new-generation Escape will tempt you away from buying one of the current family favourites, such as a Toyota RAV4 or a Mazda CX-5.
Ready to meet the new Escape range? Let's go.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The Subaru Forester Sport is an interesting new addition to the range, despite not really moving it forward in any other way apart from its eye-catching looks. It is a competitive counterpoint to the likes of the CX-5 and CR-V, but still doesn't quite reach the same levels of refinement and driving enjoyment of the RAV4.
There is no doubt the Forester Sport will add a level of appeal that Subaru has been needing in its family SUV range since launch, but we really think the thing that would get more customers excited would be a new turbocharged top-spec model, which would certainly be more deserving of the Sport name.
The Escape is one of the best-looking medium SUVs on the market, and more practical than its sleek lines would suggest. The 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine makes it one of the most powerful among its rivals, although not the best to drive thanks to overly sharp steering – which may in turn unsettle the body at times if you're not expecting such directness. While the standard features list is hardly missing anything even in the entry grade, the Escape range could do with a lower priced grade to make the model more accessible. Maybe something like the smaller-engined 1.5-litre turbo as in the previous Escape Ambiente.
The sweet spot in the range is the entry grade Escape. Yes, you miss out on the digital instrument cluster and heated seats, but you're getting most of the upper grades' equipment at a lower price.
If you've ever trawled the Subaru Japan website like me (high five, car nerds!), you might be thinking: "This Subaru Forester Sport model looks a lot like that Forester X-Break in Japan!". And you'd be right.
It is, essentially, the same car. Just with a considerably nicer looking set of wheels than the Japanese model. They aren't my favourite rims, but then again, I think the Forester's rims on the whole are pretty yuck.
Wheels aside, the flashes of orange around the car will no doubt catch your eye. There are plenty of them: the lower body protection has orange trim from the front bumper to the side skirts/sills and the rear bumper, too; plus there are orange bits as part of the roof rails, too.
The exterior also cops a bit of a blackout treatment, with new dark graphics front and rear, including a black garnish between the tail-lights. And of course, the rims are black, too.
Inside the style a bit more adventurous, with a smattering of orange trim highlights on the vent surrounds, the transmission tunnel, the stitching that runs on the dashboard, doors and seats, and even the eye-catching and intriguing mesh-look water-repellent trim on the seats that goes up to the doors, too. I guess Subaru assumes Forester Sport buyers will be spending a lot of time in the rain?
I really love the orange trim finishes - they really lift the ambience of the cabin and make it feel a bit more exciting than a regular Forester. In fact, it's like the Forester looked a bit further down the Subaru line-up to the XV and said, "Hey, how come you're getting all the attention?".
There are some inherently awesome SUV features that the Forester's interior design brings to the fore - we'll get to that in the next section.
Ooooh, Mumma, this is a good-looking SUV. In the video above I mention how the Escape could maybe even pass for an Aston Martin's DBX SUV (you might have to squint) in the styling of the grille and headlights, and even in profile. Well, Ford did own Aston from 1991 to 2007.
The previous Escape was boxy and full of angular shapes and sharp creases. This new one looks sleek and smooth. Yup, it doesn't have the tough appearance of the old one and has less of an upright, traditional SUV profile, but with its low, long bonnet and set-back cabin the Escape looks slippery and fast.
The new Escape is longer than the old one, too, by about 100mm with the entry grade being 4614mm end-to-end and the ST-Line stretching 4629mm and Vignale 4626mm.
The height has also been reduced from a maximum of 1749mm to 1680mm including the roof rails, and it's wider as well at 2178mm with the mirrors folded out.
So wider, lower, longer and sleeker. You're wondering what it's like to drive now aren't you? We'll get there.
There are some big differences in the way each grade looks, starting with the grilles – the entry Escape and top of the range Vignale have the same shaped grille but with different mesh inserts, while the ST-Line has a different grille design and a black honeycomb screen.
While the entry Escape has a roof-top spoiler, privacy glass and dual exhaust (although it doesn't quite come out of those chrome tailpipes), the ST-Line is fitted with a sports body kit which includes the front and rear bumpers, the side skirts, the large rear wing, a different style alloy wheel to the entry grade, plus proper dual pipes.
The Vignale is the posh one and gets plenty of shiny chrome looking trimmings to the grille and the window surrounds, and it's the only grade which has 19-inch alloys as standard and not 18-inch rims.
Inside, the grades vary as you'd expect, although even the entry Escape has a premium looking cabin with high-quality feeling materials and I'm a fan of the textured pattern on the door trims across the range.
The entry Escape has cloth seats, as does the ST-Line – although they have sporty red stitching. The hybrid has partial leather seats while the Vignale has what Ford calls 'leather accented', which means it's mainly leather but not completely so the legal department has advised them to go with 'accented'.
There are 10 paint colours to choose from (depending on the grade) including Agate Black, Blue Panther, Diffused Silver, Sedona Orange and White Platinum.
All grades comes with an eight-inch media display which looks small compared to those in new rivals and while the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster in the ST-Line and Vignale is stunning, the rest of the cabin didn't wow me with the modern tech and styling many new cars do.
Still the Escape scores well for design, thanks mainly to its gorgeous exterior. But how practical is it? You're about to find out.
The Forester could be the most practical vehicle in its class. Against the likes of the Toyota RAV4, Mitsubishi Outlander, Mazda CX-5 and VW Tiguan, it stacks up pretty well for cabin practicality, space utilisation and accommodation.
It's a nice, bright and airy place to be, with a big glasshouse that makes it feel a bit more outdoorsy than its rivals. The benefits of that are two-fold - it's easy to see out of, whether you're the driver or if you're a kid in the back.
Looking up front first, the Forester's cabin presentation is much more eye-catching in this grade. The other models in the range are, well, a bit bland. The Sport, though, is a bit more - dare I say it - sporty. And I personally hate models called Sport, but that's a story for another day.
The orange stitching everywhere and the orange metallic look finishes on the dash and the centre console - it combines for a more special feeling cabin than any of the other Foresters available.
I really appreciate the media screen Subaru offers - it's easy to use and is bright and colourful, and also the flush finish design - not a floating tablet style screen - does make it just a little easier to use. However there is a secondary screen above it, which shows you a bunch of information about the car that you theoretically will never actually need to know.
That top pod also has a driver monitoring camera system which is looking at you all the time and will warn you if you take your eyes off the road for too long. Intriguingly, it flashes a warning onto another screen - the one on the instruments, which also makes you look away from the road...
It really is a button and screen overload. If you like minimalism, you're not going to like the number of things in front of you as the driver of a Forester. But they all have a purpose (sort of), and for me, it's better than everything being run through touch screens!
The front seats are quite comfortable, with electric adjustment for the driver and passenger. Both are electric adjusted and heated as well, which is nice, and the material used is genuinely really comfortable - it's like a good quality couch.
Even though those are nice elements, I couldn't find myself a perfect driving position – I feel like I sat just a little too high and I couldn't get the steering wheel in quite the right position for my preferences.
Storage is mostly okay up front: the cupholders between the seats are a little bit deep so small takeaway coffees might be hard to get out, and there are bottle holders in the doors, a small cubby in front of the gear selector for a wallet and/or phone, and that's also where you'll find 2USB ports. No wireless phone charging, though.
The overall space for a family of four is perfectly usable. There is no seven seater version of the Forester, nor any seven-set SUV in the brand's range at all in Australia, so it's strictly a smaller family affair, or a good option for grandparents on duty.
There's very good second row seat space, with a high seating position and hip point allowing for adults to easily slot in there (I'm 182cm/6'0" and I can fit behind my driving position with heaps of leg, toe and headroom to spare), but it's also a handy height for child loading, with dual ISOFIX and three top-tether points. Weirdly, though, Subaru has kept with the ceiling-mounted centre seatbelt, and the seat is flat and a bit uncomfortable for adults in terms of cushioning and support. Great for child seats, though.
There are plenty of smart features in the second row, including twin map pockets on the seat backs, one of which is sectioned and divided for smaller items. Plus there are those two USB ports for charging devices (again, perfect for a family of four), and there are rear directional air vents. There is a fold-down armrest with cupholders, plus bottle holders in the doors.
Weirdly there are LED lighting pods for the boot and the tailgate, and up in the front of the cabin there is LED lighting, too - but in the centre, the middle lighting pod is halogen. Weird.
The boot area offers 498 litres of cargo capacity (VDA) with the seats up, but hit the electric release levers (handy!) at the sides of the boot and you liberate a total 1740L of space - enough for a pair of mountain bikes or a few weeks' worth of camping gear for a couple.
Plus there are shopping bag hooks on the outer sides of the boot area and one on the tailgate,, plus four tie down points if you need to attach things and stop it from rolling around. There's a cargo blind, and a 12 V outlet in the boot, too.
The Escape scores well for practicality.
Rear leg and headroom is excellent. Even at 191cm tall I can sit behind my driving position with plenty or room to move thanks to the 'scooped-out' design of the front seat backs.
That second row rolls on rails and locks into place and this means boot space can be contracted and expanded between 412 litres and 526 litres. This is a rarity in the medium-SUV segment. You can see in the video that I was able to stack all of the CarsGuide luggage in the boot.
Cabin storage is great up front with super-sized door pockets, three cupholders and a big centre console box, while those in the rear have two cupholders, but tiny door pockets.
For phones, tablets and other devices all grades come with four USB ports (two type-A and two type-C). There's also a wireless phone charger up front on all grades and two 12V power outlets.
As a parent who fastens a child into their car seat at least twice a day, I found it frustrating that the Escape's rear doors didn't open anywhere near as wide as a Mazda CX-5's to allow me more space.
I did like the low load lip on the boot and the gesture tailgate on the Vignale was convenient, if slow.
All grades come with brilliantly practical proximity unlocking, too, which is normally only offered on the higher levels in rivals.
Price and features
The new Subaru Forester 2.5i Sport model is a $41,990 proposition - that's the MSRP/RRP, or the price before on-road costs (you might find driveaway deals if you search Autotrader, though).
It slots in between the 2.5i Premium ($39,490) and the 2.5i-S ($42,990), but it stands out compared to both of those versions with a revamped design and a number of inclusions over the models below it, but most of them are visual differentiators which we'll detail in the next section.
Let's consider the standard equipment offered here: black 18-inch alloy wheels with a full size spare, an electric sunroof, water repellent cloth interior trim, electric front seat adjustment (driver's side with memory settings), heated front seats, electric tailgate, electric folding rear seats, smart key hands-free entry and push button start, auto headlights and auto wipers.
There's also a 8.0-inch touchscreen media system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring tech, DAB+ digital radio, CD player, six speakers, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, 4xUSB ports (2x front, 2x rear), a 4.2-inch digital driver info display with digital speedo, and a leather-lined steering wheel and shifter.
The safety story is a very strong one - see the section below for all the details.
Things missing from the 2.5i Sport that you might want for include an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, a proper surround-view camera, and leather seat trim.
Colours available for this spec comprise: Crystal Black silica, Crystal White pearl (as seen here), Dark Blue pearl (exclusive to Sport), Ice Silver metallic, Magnetite Grey metallic and Sepia Bronze metallic. The green and red options are not available on Sport, but no matter the colour you opt for, it won't cost you any extra.
Obviously though, you might want to choose carefully, as there are some orange highlights inside and out that might not match up with your preferred colour choice. Let's get to that next.
The Escape is expensive compared to its rivals – let me show you.
There are three grades in the Escape line-up. The entry grade is simply called the Escape and lists from $35,990 before on-road costs, then above that is the ST-Line from $37,990, and then the Vignale tops out the range from $46,590. The entry grade only comes in front-wheel drive but if you're looking for an all-wheel drive then add $3000 to the prices of the ST-Line and Vignale.
In 2021 a plug-in hybrid variant will be offered in the ST-Line grade and will cost $52,940. It too will be front-wheel drive only.
The most affordable new Escape is between $2000 and 5000 more expensive than the entry grades of rivals such as the Toyota RAV4 and Mazda CX-5. Given it does offer substantially more power and torque than either, and is well equipped, one could argue it verges on their mid-level grades (GXL and Maxx Sport). The all-wheel drive Vignale, however, costs about the same as the top-of-the-range RAV4 and CX-5 in all-wheel drive, bringing parity back to the Escape line-up.
The value in terms of equipment isn't bad. Coming standard on the entry Escape are 18-inch alloy wheels, privacy glass, silver roof rails, an eight-inch display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a wireless phone charger, sat nav, an embedded modem, dual-zone climate control, push-button start, six-speaker stereo with digital radio, and a reversing camera. There's also a smart key which lets you unlock and lock the doors just by touching the door handle.
The ST-Line has a performance feel to it and adds a menacing-looking black grille, 18-inch alloys, sports suspension, black roof rails, a large rear spoiler and dual exhaust tips. Inside there are sports seats with red stitching, a flat-bottomed steering wheel, a fully digital instrument cluster and metallic pedals.
The Vignale adds matrix LED headlights, leather heated front and rear seats, a Bang and Olufsen stereo, head-up display, a power driver's seat, auto parking and a gesture activated tailgate.
Engine & trans
Instead, the 2.5i part of the name indicated a carryover 2.5-litre four-cylinder horizontally-opposed 'boxer' engine producing 136kW of power (at 5800rpm) and 239Nm of torque (at 4400rpm). No turbo here.
The Forester is available solely with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) Lineartronic automatic gearbox, and as it's a Subie, of course it has the brand's "Symmetrical" all-wheel drive (AWD) system standard, too.
The Sport grade isn't available with the brand's hybrid powertrain, though that's no great loss. Read our review where we compared that version against the excellent RAV4 hybrid to see how it fared
The 2.5i models have seen a towing upgrade for 2021, with the unbraked rating set at 750 kilograms, while the braked towing capacity is now 1800kg (up from a meagre 1500kg in earlier models).
The Escape comes with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine making 183W of power and 387Nm of torque, which is more powerful than any engine in the RAV4, CX-5 or everything else in the class for the same money.
This is the only engine on offer for the Escape, apart from the 2.5-litre petrol engine in the plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) which will be available in 2021. The power output for the hybrid is 167kW.
The hybrid is front-wheel drive only and so is the entry grade Escape, while the petrol-only ST-Line and Vignale can be had in front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive configurations.
The petrol Escapes have an eight-speed automatic transmission while the PHEV features a continuously variable transmission, commonly known as a CVT auto. It's there to help save petrol... which neatly brings us to consumption.
The official combined cycle fuel consumption figure for the Forester 2.5i Sport is identical to the rest of the range: 7.4 litres per 100 kilometres, with emissions claimed at 168g/km CO2.
On test, we saw an at the pump fuel economy of 9.5L/100km across a mix of urban, highway, country and open road driving (plus a very short unsealed off-highway stint).
Fuel tank capacity is 63 litres. It can run on the more affordable 91RON regular unleaded.
Ford says the all-wheel drive and front-wheel drive Escapes with the 2.0-litre petrol engine should use 8.6L/100km after a combination of open and urban roads. In my own testing I found the difference between the two to also be almost negligible, too, with the FWD's mileage being 9.4L/100km and the AWD's being 9.7L/100km. These were both taken from the trip computer and the test course was identical for both, taking in motorways and urban roads.
The plug-in hybrid is the true fuel super saver with Ford saying it can achieve 1.5L/100km. The hybrid was not available to the Australia motoring media to test, but you can absolutely expect the fuel economy to be outstanding.
The Subaru Forester is a smooth and decent family SUV, one that doesn't necessarily do anything exceptionally well, but nor is it terrible at anything when it comes to on-road driving.
In fact, my biggest complaint is the noise intrusion - there's quite a bit of tyre roar through even normal road surfaces, and coarse chip roads are louder again. There's also wind noise up around the windscreen and mirrors, and the engine is noisy under acceleration because of the CVT automatic transmission, and it doesn't sound overly delightful, either.
That said, the 2.5-litre engine's response is pretty good, offering decent and linear power delivery. It's not fast, not overly fun, and the CVT auto does rob it some of the excitement you might want. However, it jumps away from a standstill pretty nicely, and if you can hit the sweet spot when you're accelerating you might be surprised by its brisk response.
There are paddle shifters to take matters into your own hands - though even if you use the SI drive mode selector (Sport or Intelligent drive modes), it's less thrusty than turbocharged competitors (Ford Escape) or even hybrid-powered rivals (Toyota RAV4).
The ride comfort is quite good, there's a nice supple attitude to the suspension and the way it controls itself over bumps, but it is quite soft and that means that there is some noticeable body roll in corners.
Thankfully the seats are really quite nice and offer good support, and while the steering is decently weighted and accurate enough it's hardly the last word in excitement for thrills. I'm also not much of a fan of the lane keeping system and how it affects the steering, as it interrupts the smoothness of your steering a little too much. There's a button you can hit to turn it off, but you have to do it every time.
And that driver-monitoring camera system really does make you realise how much you're not looking at the road ahead. I'm a constant glancer, looking at whatever is driving past or whatever I see parked in people's driveways, and the system really made me realise that.
Because it's a Forester with all-wheel drive, I took it for a brief light off road review expedition, where it lived up to the brand's adventure-focused persona.
The most impressive element was a combination of nice high ground clearance (220mm), plus the way that soft suspension rolled over rocks and bumps allows decent travel to the suspension, and good control to the driver's hands, too.
The drive mode selection system allows you to choose "snow/dirt" or "deep snow/mud", meaning soggy camping trips or drives to the snow should be pretty well catered for. Like most soft-roading vehicles and crossovers, though, the tyres will be your biggest letdown but also your easiest upgrade.
The hill descent control system worked really well, and while I wasn't pushing any boundaries of what to expect a SUV like this to do, it was pretty well sorted of the whole.
The plugin-in hybrid wasn't available to drive at the Australian launch of the Escape, but I tested all grades with the petrol engine. The entry level Escape and ST-Line I drove were front-wheel drive and the Vignale was all-wheel drive.
There are good things to report, but also a few-could-be-better points, too.
First the good. That 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine is truly responsive, with almost zero turbo lag and stacks of oomph and you'll be hard pressed to find another SUV in the size and price bracket that has this much grunt.
Plenty of SUVs out there can feel breathless when it comes to overtaking or needing to move quickly, and if anything there were times in all the Escapes I drove where it was more a case of 'whooah' slow down there. Sport mode was for the most part unnecessary.
The transmission is a regular eight-speed automatic, which was good for acceleration, whereas the CVTs found in some other SUVs can have a lacklustre effect on getting you moving, while dual-clutch autos aren't known for their smoothness at low speeds.
That said, the automatic in the Escape seemed to 'clunk' at low speeds sometimes as I accelerated away in traffic.
Steering is one of the parts which could be better. I found the steering in all three of the Escapes I drove to be overly direct and quick, meaning the wheel only needed to be turned slightly for a fairly sudden change in direction. That, in turn, would unsettle the car causing a 'wobble'. It's not unsafe, but passengers might turn green in the back.
But the more I drove the Escape the more I adjusted to its sporty characteristics and the ride was comfortable.
The all-wheel drive Escape felt more planted and stable to drive, particularly in the wet where I found the front-wheel drives spun their wheels under acceleration due to all that torque, with a hint of understeer at times.
Visibility was great, the reversing camera was clear and the auto parking feature on the Vignale worked well apart from that one time it tired do a perpendicular park in a parallel spot.
That said, the Forester has an extensive safety technology specification list, starting with auto emergency braking (AEB) that works both in city and inter-urban settings up to 80km/h, and it features pedestrian and cyclist detection, too.
There's also lane departure warning with an active lane keeping assistance system that works from 60km/h to 145km/h, and there's adaptive cruise control that works through the brand's stereo camera EyeSight system. Blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are standard, as is a rear AEB system to stop you bumping into cars or walls at low speeds, rear parking sensors, a reversing camera that is complemented by a front and front kerbside camera (not quite surround view, but close).
The Forester has seven airbags (driver's knee, dual front, front side, full-length curtain), and there are dual ISOFIX outboard child-seat anchors and three top-tether points.
The Escape was given the maximum five-star ANCAP rating in 2020, but this was under 2019 standards from the otherwise-identical European Kuga-badged version tested that year. This shouldn't put you off, as all grades come with an outstanding level of standard safety tech such as AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane keeping assistance, adaptive cruise control, blind spot warning with cross traffic alert and traffic sign recognition.
Front and rear parking sensors are also standard across the range, so is a reversing camera and auto headlights.
For child seats there are two ISOFIX points and three top tether mounts across the second row.
A space-saver spare wheel is under the boot floor.
Subaru Australia backs its cars with a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, which is on par with its main rivals but behind the likes of Mitsubishi (10 years if you service with them) and Kia (seven years).
The brand offers just 12 months of roadside assistance when you buy a new car, where some others offer seven years or more.
The company also has unusual service intervals of 12 months/12,500km, with a capped price servicing plan that spans five years/62,500km. The average cost per service over that period is high, at $476.50 per annum - and it'll be even higher if you do a lot of kilometres.
There are also three-year and five-year service plans available. If you sign up for those, you get three years roadside assist plus a loan car when you get your car serviced. The costs for those are $1281.81 (three years/37,500km), or $2382.52 (five years/62,500km).